21 Sep 2023

'Devastated': Victoria University axes 229 jobs and six courses

6:25 pm on 21 September 2023
Staff and students rally at Victoria University on 21 June, 2023.

A rally at Victoria University in June protested against the staff and course cuts. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Wellington's Victoria University is axing 229 jobs and cutting six language and geo-science courses in an effort to save money.

The institution will no longer offer Greek, Latin, Italian, geophysics, geographic information science or physical geography.

Eleven other courses will need to achieve set targets as part of a managed financial plan, or meet the same fate. These are: education, the English Language Institute, history, midwifery, workplace health and safety, Earth sciences, physics, theatre, modern languages, Master of design technology, and the New Zealand School of Music.

Vice-chancellor Nic Smith said a voluntary redundancy process saw 75 staff walk away from their jobs, while an estimated 65 more would be made redundant, after further voluntary redundancies, resignations, and redeployment to 34 newly-created positions were taken into account.

The cuts would see the University save $22 million in staff costs. About a third of the jobs being lost were academic roles.

"It has been a thankless task that no one wanted to do," Smith said.

"However, I am confident that we have run a thorough process, which has seen a high level of engagement and consultation with staff at multiple points and produced a number of really constructive variations to what was originally proposed.

"I also want to acknowledge and thank the staff who will be leaving us, all of whom have served the university well and contributed enormously to our high-quality research and teaching programmes, in some cases, over many years," Smith said.

Tertiary Education Union branch president Dougal McNeill said staff and students were devastated. The university had ditched some of its more "reckless" plans, but more jobs and courses could have been saved, he said.

"There's a real vacuum of leadership in the humanities here. Small subjects that could still be taught, even with the job cuts, are going - for example, Latin and Greek.

"Renowned music school facing a body-blow of staff cuts. The rush here and the ways in which this has been done has set us up for some really long-term damage," McNeill said.

The uncertainty about the future of the eleven courses on managed plans was also worrying, he said.

"We're gravely concerned about those plans because if you're being managed by people who give every indication that they're not invested in your success, how will this situation be different in a couple of years' time?

"It was a management-led enrolment debacle that precipitated this crisis and staff here are picking up the pieces," McNeill said.

The university would put $6.8m into retaining jobs and programmes that were originally proposed for disestablishment, using part of the $12m injection (over two years) announced by the government in June, philanthropic support, and money freed up by repaying debt

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